BLADE Magazine

Flipping In: The Rise Of The Custom Flipping Folder

Custom Flipping Folders Are Becoming More And More Popular By The Day. These Are Some Of The Coolest Custom Flippers.

The energy surrounding the custom flipper folder market is rising to new heights these days with the fit and finish, good looks and liveliness of high-quality materials, incredible skill, and, best of all, imagination.

A look at the current trends among some of the best in the class offers the custom knife market perspective on the future while also allowing a moment to appreciate and absorb the excellence around us. The commitment to make flipper folders isn’t taken lightly; it involves a concentrated effort to achieve, meet, and overcome the challenges in bringing this type of custom knife to life.

Dan Thornburg – Albuquerque, NM

Of his flipper folders Dan Thornburg said, “Little things like the cutout on the lockbar or depth of bearing pockets all affect how smooth the action will be.” The blade is Moku-Mai by Baker Forge and the handle is ancient walrus ivory. Closed length: 5 inches. His price for a similar knife: $2,000. (Image: SharpByCoop)

“I really enjoy making flipper folders because of the challenge they present in both mechanical function and working with different materials,” explained Dan Thornburg of Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I like figuring out how things work or why something doesn’t.”

Thornburg got started in flipper folders after meeting Paul Lusk at a Houston knife show years ago. “This guy is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and is one heck of a good businessman,” Dan said of Paul. “His encouragement helped my knifemaking get to the next level.”

Evidence of that next level is readily apparent in Dan’s flipper in a handle of ancient walrus ivory with damascus bolsters. Made by Baker Forge, the blade material is Moku-Mai—mokume forge welded over 80CrV2 carbon steel. Dan said it’s not unlike a san-mai construction using mokume. The product of his ingenuity reflects an intense technical appreciation. 

“I don’t think I’ve changed the design as much as refined the design,” he reasoned. “Little things like the cutout on the lockbar or depth of bearing pockets all affect how smooth the action will be. I do try to keep it simple and not reinvent the wheel, so to speak.”

Thornburg succeeds handsomely in his mission, paying close attention to detail and applying a natural talent for precision. He indicated he likes the flipper tab to double as a single guard and fashions it with the same material as the blade. Then, he advises the owners of his flipper folders to learn their safe operation.

“I think, just like most things, operating a flipper folder is a learned thing,” he said. “The more you flip it open, the easier it becomes. My dad still couldn’t open the best and smoothest folder I’ve made—too old school I guess! For someone that owns and loves flippers, most will fly open.”

Eliot Maldonado – Bulverde, TX

“Having a shorter tab is easier on pockets and looks cleaner,” Eliot Maldonado stated. “When the knife is closed, the tab doubles as a guard, but it is still short enough so that it does not ‘ouch’ your finger when closing.” His flipper employs a tanto blade of Moku-Mai by Baker Forge Steel and a marbled-carbon-fiber handle and Micarta® bolsters. Closed length: 4 inches. (Image: SharpByCoop)

Eliot Maldonado of Bulverde, Texas, started his custom knifemaking career making slip joints and then saw an opportunity. About 15 years ago, he had helped knifemaking friend Alan Davis work with slippies, and Davis assisted Maldonado with linerlocks in turn.

“Soon after, and knowing the function of linerlocks, I experimented with flippers,” Eliot explained. “It was a successful outcome and the passion for flippers started.”

Eliot’s flipper in Baker Forge damascus, a Micarta® bolster, and a marbled carbon-fiber handle demonstrate his appreciation of the finer points in the endeavor. His use of materials has also progressed from the early days. Back then he used basics just in case something went wrong. As he has become more proficient, upgrades to higher-quality blade and handle materials followed.

“I also started changing up patterns, those patterns that appealed to me,” Maldonado said, “like, I enjoy making folders with a classic kind of western—cowboy—look but still make more traditional tactical-type flippers as well.”

Eliot pays special attention to the flipper tab, applying a technique that enhances the action of blade deployment.

“Of course, the use of bearings changes the game when it comes to flippers, and I like a shorter tab with a checkering or ridge for traction. I feel having a shorter tab is easier on pockets and looks cleaner. When the knife is closed, the tab doubles as a guard, but it is still short enough so that it does not ‘ouch’ your finger when closing.”

Eliot is a firm believer in the assertive action of a flipper folder, and he makes no apologies for being a purist. 

“I believe a flipper should snap to open position when flicked by a finger,” he related. “Anything other than that is just not acceptable to me. The way I achieve that is by using caged bearings, stop pin position, the liner relief cut, and the perfect tolerance on the blade and back spacer. The result should be a fast opening with zero blade play and strong lockup.”

Todd Rexford – Florissant, CO

Todd Rexford’s futuristic flipper folder features a stainless damascus blade and a handle of DarkTi zirconium and titanium overlays. The overlays extend into the inside of the frame, while the mechanism features an inlaid lockbar and detent pin. Closed length: 4.6 inches. (Image: SharpByCoop)

The flipper folder genre has changed since Todd Rexford of Florissant, Colorado, began his journey some years ago. He credits demand as the catalyst for focusing his creativity on flipper folders.

“They were in their infancy when I started making them,” he commented. “There were some very good makers doing it, but back then the thumb stud still ruled the folder world. It was really my customers that wanted me to start making them, and I had ideas for my own flippers as well, for what I wanted to see and what the way forward was for my knives.”

The way forward for Todd is clearly indicated by a fine flipper folder of stainless damascus with a handle of DarkTi zirconium and titanium overlays. The overlays extend into the inside of the frame, while the mechanism features a hardened stainless pivot, inlaid lockbar, and detent pin with the Rexford radius bearing system integrated. A titanium pocket clip and back spacer complete the stunning package.

Todd sees the operation of the flipper folder as a critical element of the overall presentation, but hesitates to favor fully opening vs. more of an assisted movement. 

“I don’t judge,” he offered. “If a wrist snap is needed, then so be it. We can’t forget that when I make a stiff-detent lockbar flipper, you won’t be able to open it slowly. It will open with authority and everyone around you will hear it. This goes to show that each detent force has its own place depending on the end users and their task requirements.”

Nonetheless, the smooth operation of the flipper folder is a hallmark of a successfully completed professional effort. 

“The detent force, and how much preload you can place on the system before it overcomes the detent, is one factor that determines if the knife will fully open or not,” Rexford asserted.

“The other factor is the person and his or her finger,” he continued. “Through my years of building flippers, I’ve built everything on the spectrum of this force. Take a stiff detent to a show and half the people love it; half the people can’t open it. I’ve had users time some of my very fast knives in a pseudo drag race using camera-frame timing because they love it, but for a lot of people they may not be able to open that knife. At the end of the day it’s a preference, and I have stopped ‘standardizing’ my force. Yes, a flick will open the knife, but the velocity of the tip may change to suit different customers.”

The Skiff Family – Broadalbin, NY

The Culprit flipper folder by Steven Skiff, Jr. and Sr. won Best in Show at the 2022 NCCA Show. The blade is Damasteel stainless damascus in a Fafnir pattern. Closed length: 4.25 inches. The makers’ price for a similar knife: $1,495.

The father-son team of Steven Skiff, Sr., and Steven Skiff, Jr., from Broadalbin, New York, collaborates to make their own bold statement in the flipper folder realm. While Steven, Sr. makes the blades and does fit and finish, Steven, Jr. handles the CNC milling and produces blade bearings for the Skiffs’ projects, as well as bearings for other customers in the knife industry.

The Skiffs enjoy tackling the relative intricacy of flipper folder construction and relish the opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency, particularly with their team approach. 

“Making flippers is a challenge,” Steven, Sr remarked. “They are deceptively simple looking to make. It can be difficult to get the action exactly the way you want. It’s that challenge that I enjoy and it makes me prefer making them over other knives.”

The Skiffs’ Culprit framelock flipper folder features a blade of Damasteel stainless damascus in a Fafnir pattern, and a titanium handle with zirconium accents and seafoam anodizing. The result is dazzling, and Steven, Sr. credits custom knifemaking greats Andre Thorburn, R.J. Martin, and Kirby Lambert for “having a hand in increasing my interest to continue making flippers.”

The flipper construction process has progressed in the years since the Skiffs began to concentrate on the style. One aspect of that progress is the addition of an over-travel stop. 

“That’s an example of one important advancement that [a number of] us makers started using on framelocks a while ago,” Steven, Sr. observed. “Another advancement includes the evolution of using bearings instead of thrust washers, and we also use a hardened insert in the lockbar to prevent wear.”

The Flipper Folder Continues To Grow

The firm foundation of the flipper folder, both in popularity and mechanical and aesthetic quality, sets the stage for the future.

“I do predict we will see further refinement in materials, as well as in material quality over the coming years,” Rexford assessed. “We have also seen new locking mechanisms being adapted for the flipper category of knives.”

Maldonado looks ahead to “future advances in making a double-action flipper/auto. Of course, using new and exotic blade and handle materials is always something that keeps evolving.”

Future generations of collectors and users come to mind with Thornburg’s ideas of tomorrow. He commented, “I like to use materials that are not common when making my flippers. Mammoth, walrus and elk antler are my main scale materials, and my idea is a fine gentleman’s flipper folder for the upscale customer that will be handed down to their children.”

Altogether, the custom makers and their colleagues are doing their part to ensure that the flipper folder has staying power.

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